DC on the impact of ‘Forever Evil’ on the New 52

(CBR) This week marks the start of a total villain takeover of the DC Universe.

Alongside DC Comics‘ much-discussed “Villains Month” promotion in comic shops and online, the company’s core fictional world is being conquered by the evil Justice League counterparts known as the Crime Syndicate of America. These analogues from Earth 3 arrived at the end of last month’s “Trinity War” crossover in the Geoff Johns-led “Justice League” titles, and their hostile takeover continues in this week’s “Forever Evil” #1, the first of a seven-part miniseries by Johns and artist David Finch.

With that in mind, CBR News spoke to DC senior editor Brian Cunningham for the inside story on the Crime Syndicate’s return. Though the team hasn’t appeared as often as some other DC villains, they remain a favorite of DC chief creative officer Johns, and their role in “Forever Evil” will have them going head-to-head with classic DC villains like Lex Luthor. Meanwhile, fans continue to wonder whether Batman ally Nightwing will play the role of hero or cannon fodder in the event series, given his central role in the story.

Below, Cunningham digs into all of the story from the surprise ending of “Trinity War” to the introduction of new Crime Syndicate members like Deathstorm and Atomica, to the ways DC villains like the Flash’s Rogues will respond to their new would-be masters. Plus, Cunningham teases how the rest of the New 52 line will be impacted by “Forever Evil” once Villains Month has ended and its biggest story beats fold back into the rest of the monthly comics.

CBR News: As folks who picked up “Justice League” #23 are seeing, “Trinity War” and “Forever Evil” are about as tightly linked as two events can be. Let’s start by talking about the end of the former series where it seems, for all intents and purposes, evil has won. When in the discussion of what this story could be did the creative team realize this series and this battle would end with the tides turning in such a way?

Brian Cunningham: Very early on in that discussion. There were a few other ideas, but once the idea of using the Crime Syndicate came up, there was really no other option that trumped it.

The Crime Syndicate is one of my all-time favorite villain teams. My introduction to them was the when they actually died in “Crisis On Infinite Earths” #1 — the four or five pages they appeared on was really really powerful (thank you, Marv and George) and I never, ever forgot them. Then Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s “Earth 2” graphic novel reinterpreted them, and I enjoyed that a lot, too.

And now that we are in the New 52, I was really dying to bring them back somehow. Geoff and I talked once about them months before “Trinity War” came together, just our mutual affection for them really, and then when Geoff brought them back up when we were cracking “Trinity War,” it was an epiphany. It was like, “Of course!” Tons of ideas just flowed from that.

We know “Trinity War” in its own way ultimately referred to Earth 3 being brought back onto the board of the DCU. But I feel that there’s also some thematic resonance in where Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman’s relationship stands after the fight for Pandora’s Box. Even without that items influence in play, has the trust behind the Justice League’s big three been shattered?

The threads of “Trinity War” will definitely continue. How and when, I’d prefer to stay mum on that. Read “Forever Evil” #1 and you’ll see where the “big three” stand post-TW.

We already know the Justice League of America will become the “Justice League of Canada” following this story, and the regular Justice League is dealing with the fallout of their own turncloak. Is part of what “Trinity War” was all about ultimately the shattering of the Justice League as we’ve known them since Darkseid’s invasion?

The Justice League will live on. However, with who, what and when are really the questions. “Trinity War” and “Forever Evil” will test all of them in ways we have not yet seen. The JL coming into “Forever Evil” may not be the JL that comes out of it, and that will play out in the miniseries.

So let’s talk about the building blocks of “Forever Evil” — with the introduction of Aquaman, Atom and Firestorm analogues to the Crime Syndicate, it looks as though the whole purpose and practice of how Earth 3 works in the DC Multiverse will be expanded upon here.

You’ll actually see some of those mechanics in the “Secret Society” one-shot in September, believe it or not. It’s almost entirely set on Earth 3. And we’ll learn more in “Forever Evil,” certainly in issue #2 and peppered throughout the mini. There is a massive story to tell there that will unfold over time. It’ll be a very big deal once we learn more about Earth 3 and the secrets it still holds.

In terms of where “Forever Evil” will launch out of “Trinity War,” will it deal with the immediate fallout of “Justice League” #23? Will readers get to see the Crime Syndicate and the weakened Justice Leagues throw down?

You’ll have to wait and see. I think it will shock readers. At the very least it will get people talking.

What’s the true nature of the conflict in this series? In theory the Crime Syndicate and the villains of Earth 1, like Luthor, share a similar set of values and goals. Where do their similarities end in order to start the battle that “Forever Evil” will focus on?

It’s more the differences between the villains that “Forever Evil” will focus on the most. Not all villains are created equal. There are different degrees of villainy.

Take Captain Cold and the Rogues. They are not out to conquer the world. All they want is to steal their fair share of the pie. But when the Syndicate tells them to go do something horrible, like murdering lots of innocent people — it puts them in a very difficult spot. Not all villains want the same thing, so that is what drives a lot of the conflict.

And we will see exactly what values Lex Luthor shares with the Crime Syndicate. In fact, if you are a Lex Luthor fan, you will love this miniseries. And if you’re not, it’s an opportunity to come around to loving him.

I understand that the story space “Forever Evil” will occupy will be working a bit differently than some other events in the past have worked. The core series will take seven months to hit the stands, but how much time in the DC Universe will those seven issues occupy?

Yeah, in “comic time,” it is seven months. In “real time” within the story, it really doesn’t span that long. It will be just long enough for things to go from bad to worse to, uh, worser.

Meanwhile, the rest of the DC Universe monthlies seem to be continuing their own stories as planned before the bad guy takeover of “Villains Month.” How are you approaching the challenge of how the world-conquering story of “Forever Evil” will impact those books?

Oh, the plans we have in place… you just have to wait and see. 2014 is going to be a very very exciting year for the DC Universe. I wish I could say more, I really do.

Of course, there are some tie-ins on tap before that. From the look of it, titles like “Justice League,” “Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S.” and others will be chronicling the story of the remaining heroes’ resistance to the Crime Syndicate. How will all these different series connect with the story Geoff and David are telling in the main event?

Some more closely than others, but they all connect back to “Forever Evil” in very fundamental ways. And they all tell different stories that fall within the event, focusing on different themes and characters. Steve Trevor’s story is different than the Rogues and different from what’s going on in Gotham City. But the circumstances of the “new world order” are reflected in each miniseries.

Overall, synching the end of “Forever Evil” back up with the DCU in April seems to signal that we’ll see some fallout. Can you tell us how that fallout will impact the DC line? Will some titles end? New ones be launched?

I know this sounds lame, but I’d rather not say. And it is cliché to say “there are big things are in store.” But, in reality, there always are. There will be consequences, huge ramifications. A lot of pieces will need to be picked up for all the characters we all care deeply for. But it’s all in the name of keeping the audience on its toes, that DC is not going to play it safe.

One thing I can say is that on September 4 and 5, I can guarantee the #1 word trending in the comic book world will be “Nightwing.”

“Forever Evil” #1 is on sale Wed., Sept. 4 from DC Comics.